The Chicago Bears (5-8) and New Orleans Saints (5-8) will square off tonight for the 29th time. The Bears own a 15-13 edge in the all-time series. The Saints won the last two meetings, 30-13 in 2011 at New Orleans and 26-18 in 2013 at Chicago.
The Bears own a 10-7 record over the Saints in games played in Illinois, which includes both playoff meetings. Chicago is 10-6 over New Orleans in games played at Soldier Field.
The Week 15 contest will be the third straight nationally televised game for the Bears and will mark the second of three straight home games. Chicago is 1-0 on Monday Night Football this season after defeating the 49ers 28-20 in Week 2 at San Francisco.
All-time, the Bears are 15-11 at home on Monday Night Football, which includes five straight victories at Soldier Field. Chicago will play their last home game of the season next week against the Detroit Lions, before finishing the campaign in Minnesota against the Vikings.
Over the past week, the Bears have placed WR Brandon Marshall and LB D.J. Williams on injured reserve. Marshall will be replaced by a combination of Josh Morgan and Marquess Wilson. At linebacker, Jon Bostic will slide inside to middle linebacker in place of Williams, with undrafted rookie Christian Jones starting on the weak side.
THE CUTLER REPORT
Cutler’s 2013 Statistics
The last 12 days have been rough for Jay Cutler. Following the team’s 41-28 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer criticized Cutler to a member of the national media. He reportedly said the team has “buyer’s remorse” for signing Cutler to a seven-year, $126.7 million contract this past offseason.
Kromer immediately apologized to the team and to Cutler, who said he’s not angry at his coach’s frustration.
“We’ve all made mistakes. I’m sure everyone in this room can attest to that. I’ve said things out of character and things I wish I could take back. That’s what happened here,” Cutler said. “He apologized to us on Monday and in my room, in the offensive room, it’s a dead issue.
“I wasn’t angry at him. The way that he talked to us and approached the issue, I think it kind of cleared the air a little bit with everybody. I want to play better. The offensive line wants to play better. The receivers want to play better. We all want to play better on offense and that’s the main issue.”
Cutler’s right. If the offense was performing to its potential, there would be no reason for Kromer to complain. And in reality, Kromer was only expressing what a lot of the folks at Halas Hall already believe.
“Stuff like that, when you’re 5-8, that’s going to happen. When you just got paid a big contract and you’re a quarterback, that’s part of the deal, part of the job,” said Cutler. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to worry about the Saints, just keep trying to improve this team. If I play better, that will just give us a better chance to win.”
Brandon Marshall also took a swing at Cutler, saying on ESPN Radio 1000 that he’d have buyer’s remorse if he were the Bears.
It’s easy to dismiss Marshall, who has been loose-lipped and borderline out of control for most the campaign, yet the Kromer situation is troubling. It indicates a lack of respect and a lack of trust between Kromer, Cutler and head coach Marc Trestman, who has lost control of his locker room.
Cutler has struggled this year, there’s no doubt about it, but the lack of support he’s received from his teammates and coaches has been very surprising.
Yet he can regain a lot of that support by playing to his potential over the final three games. The Saints have the 29th-ranked passing defense, so even without Marshall, Cutler should have plenty of success on Monday night. And if he doesn’t, then it’s clear Cutler, the offense and the coaching staff have mailed it in.
Cutler Career vs. Saints
|BEARS (NFL Rank)||SAINTS (NFL Rank)|
|21.6 (T-18th)||Points Scored||25.6 (9th)|
|342.8 (18th)||Total Offense||421.0 (3rd)|
|88.7 (26th)||Rushing Offense||123.7 (9th)|
|254.2 (11th)||Passing Offense||297.3 (3rd)|
|29.1 (32nd)||Points Allowed||27.6 (30th)|
|377.8 (T-28th)||Total Defense||398.7 (31st)|
|112.3 (16th)||Rushing Defense||133.5 (29th)|
|265.5 (30th)||Passing Defense||265.2 (29th)|
|-6 (T-24th)||Turnover Ratio||-9 (T-29th)|
BEARS ON OFFENSE
Matchups to Watch
WR Alshon Jeffery vs. CB Keenan Lewis
With Brandon Marshall on injured reserve, the team will turn to Alshon Jeffery to carry an even-heavier load in the passing game. Jeffery is having a solid season (73 catches, 949 receiving yards, 8 TDs) and has scored in five of the past six contests (six total). Against the Saints last year, Jeffery set a franchise record with 218 receiving yards on 10 catches – a record he broke seven weeks later (249 yards vs. Minnesota).
Keenan Lewis is New Orleans’ top starting cornerback but that’s not saying a whole lot. He’s allowed a team-high seven touchdowns this year, per Pro Football Focus (PFF), and opposing quarterbacks have a 104.5 passer rating when throwing at him. If Jeffery can take advantage of this matchup the Bears should be able to move ball consistently through the air.
The Bears will start undrafted rookie Ryan Groy tonight. Groy will be the fourth starting left guard the team has used this season. He gets a tough matchup against Cameron Jordan, who is second on the team in sacks (6.0) and QB hurries (29). If Groy struggles in his first NFL start, Jordan will penetrate the pocket in Cutler’s face, which will destroy the passing game.
Keys to the Game
-The Bears need to control the clock by utilizing running back Matt Forte. The Saints have struggled this year but they still boast the league’s third-ranked passing offense and Chicago’s secondary hasn’t stopped anyone recently. The only way to keep Drew Brees and company off the field is to win the time-of-possession battle.
In the past two games combined, Forte has just 18 carries for 32 yards (1.7 yards per carry). Not surprisingly, both outings resulted in Bears losses. If Forte gets workhorse carries in this outing, and the front five can clear him a few holes, it will go a long way toward controlling the clock.
In addition, Forte is from Louisiana and obviously wants to have a strong outing in front of his friends and family.
“I’m always motivated anyways but I’ve got a lot of friends and family back home that are Saints fans, so it’s always fun when you’re doing something like that,” Forte said. “Obviously you want to get a win so they don’t have to call me or my parents and try to brag and all that stuff. It’s always fun when you’re playing a team from your hometown.”
-Wide receivers Marquess Wilson and Josh Morgan will serve as the club’s No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts. It’s unclear how the reps will be split, although Trestman could go with the hot hand. Against Saints CB Corey White, there should be plenty of opportunities to make plays.
White is easily the worst coverage player in New Orleans’ secondary, allowing a team-high 68.7 completion percentage against. He’s given up four touchdowns this year, while his poor tackling has allowed 278 yards after the catch.
-The Saints could be without OLB Junior Galette in this game, which would be a huge loss. Galette leads the team in sacks (7.0) and his 49 QB hurries are near the top of the NFL. If he’s able to play, LT Jermon Bushrod, who has struggled of late, needs to have a solid outing, otherwise Galette could wreak havoc in the backfield.
BEARS ON DEFENSE
Matchups to Watch
QB Drew Brees vs. LB Jon Bostic
With Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams on IR, Jon Bostic becomes the most experienced linebacker on the roster. He’ll start at middle linebacker and will make all the calls at the line of scrimmage, opposite Drew Brees.
Brees is one of the most intelligent quarterbacks in the game, so the chess match between him and Bostic will be crucial. If Brees out-checks Bostic, while also taking advantage of Christian Jones and Shea McClellin on the outside, the Saints are going to pick up big chunks down the middle of the field.
TE Jimmy Graham vs. Entire Bears Defense
Jimmy Graham is arguably the most dangerous tight end in the NFL. In last years’ contest, he torched Chicago to the tune of 10 catches for 135 yards. The Bears will trot out an experienced linebackers corps, as well as two rookies in the secondary (Kyle Fuller and Brock Vereen).
No matter who lines up across from Graham, it will be a mismatch, one the Saints will look to exploit repeatedly. If Graham goes crazy, the Bears will have no chance at slowing down New Orleans’ passing attack.
Keys to the Game
-Mark Ingram has emerged this season as one of the most consistent runners in the NFC. Over the last eight weeks, he has four outings of 100 or more rushing yards. The Bears are coming off a game in which Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray rushed for 179 yards.
If Ingram finds success on the ground early, that will keep New Orleans’ offense two-dimensional. That could result in big gashes on the ground, yet it will also beef up the play-action game. With Bears linebackers lacking experience, play action could eat them up, which would open up the middle of the field for Graham.
If Ingram, as well as Pierre Thomas, establish the run game, it’ll be curtains for Chicago’s defense.
-Saints RG Jahri Evans is a beast of a run blocker. The Saints love to pound the ball behind Evans, particularly in short-yardage situations, where the 6-4, 318-pounder thrives.
Yet Evans is a turnstile in pass protection, as is center Jonathan Goodwin. One of the main reasons the Saints have struggled to find consistency on offense has been the pass protection issues in the middle of the offensive line, which has resulted in some costly sacks.
Overall, the Saints are solid in pass protection – their 21 total sacks are fifth fewest in the league – but Evans and Goodwin can be exploited. If the Bears want to get after Brees in the pocket, they’ll need to mug up the linebackers in the A gaps and bring pressure up the middle.
-WR Marques Colston is well past his prime but he sill makes plays on a regular basis. He’s second on the team in receiving yards (706) and leads the Saints in average yards per catch (15.3) and receptions of 20 or more yards (14). Colston’s veteran savvy can definitely hurt Chicago’s inexperienced secondary if the Bears aren’t sound in their assignments.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.